Ballmer disses MacBook Air, bemoans Google behemoth

Not surprisingly, Microsoft Corp.’s CEO Steve Ballmer is short on praises for the MacBook Air. Joking that the laptop is heavier than his PC, he pretended to stumble from his chair from the weight of the device in his hands during a speech in Las Vegas Thursday.

“That thing’s missing half the things on my PC. Where’s the DVD drive?”

Ballmer took centre stage at a MIX ’08 keynote for a humorously unconventional one-on-one during which the Microsoft leader bore a barrage of questions from Guy Kawasaki, managing director of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Garage Technology Ventures, on issues like Microsoft’s bid to buy Yahoo! Inc. and the state of Vista.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software mogul is not “where we’d like to be” and still has a long way to go to become a serious player in the world of search and online advertising, said Ballmer in support of its bid for Yahoo! in February. Buying the search giant, he said, will accelerate the company’s journey towards that position by giving it the scale it needs to compete with Google.

When asked if Google is “front and centre” in his rivalry towards competitors, in particular, whether he takes shots at pictures of Google chieftains Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Ballmer quipped: “I’m not a good dart player.”

But he did say Microsoft wins over Google in the business of desktops, server and enterprise, as well as entertainment devices. However, when it comes to the online business, “it’s Google, Google, Google!” said Ballmer in a mock tone of exasperation.

That said, Ballmer has an unfailing vision of a future with Microsoft as a dominant player in the online space. “It may be my last breath at Microsoft,” he declared, “But we’re gonna be there.”

Kawasaki asked Ballmer what’s up with the partnership with Facebook. The decision to buy a piece of Facebook, replied Ballmer, will give Microsoft a piece of an online future that he envisions will be made up of a few big online ad platforms that serve customer and advertiser information. “We’re happy to be a public owner, even more happy to be a partner,” he said.

Specifics of the agreement, said Ballmer, didn’t involve him or Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but instead it was the result of collaboration between great people on both sides.

Kawasaki then attempted a second try of his “What’s the deal with Vista” question, after Ballmer had strategically avoided answering the original blunt query with his MacBook Air antics. The number one issue with the operating system, Ballmer eventually explained, is that application and driver compatibility was compromised in the name of security, a decision that ultimately proved “very painful” for the consumer.

The recently available Windows Vista Service Pack 1, which factored in many user suggestions, should result in more uptake in the business market, said Ballmer, which will supplement the operating system’s existing popularity in the consumer world.

Ballmer also commended Apple Inc. when jokingly asked by Kawasaki whether he perceived the company as “this little Chihuahua that you just kick away”. After failing to resist the urge to mimic the bark of a Chihuahua, Ballmer said Microsoft has a larger footprint and that it’s “trying to continue to compete with all our vigour and energy.”

And in keeping with the announcement of Microsoft’s beta release of Silverlight 2.0, Ballmer said the goal of Silverlight is to eventually unify what has traditionally been two distinct areas for developers following an inevitable “fork in the road”. He said that “over time, what we’re really trying to do is bring those two things together” so developers no longer need to compromise on functionality.

Ballmer acknowledged a “big competitor” in Adobe Systems Inc. in the rich internet application space, and that it’s a company that will remain an important component in the industry for a long time to come. For that reason, he said, Microsoft “will continue to drive both interoperability where it makes sense with Adobe while competing with Adobe.” It was a response to which Kawasaki amicably needled, “That was a PR answer.”

With respect to recent acquisitions by Microsoft, Ballmer remarked he is excited about that of Fast Search & Transfer ASA, and that the Danger Inc. buy will help build an application and service asset atop the Windows Mobile platform.

On the future of Microsoft post-Bill Gates, Ballmer said he wants people to realize there exists talented individuals within the corporation who contribute and who “propel the place” besides Gates.

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